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The Scarlet Letter

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3.34 of 5 stars 3.34  ·  rating details  ·  445,163 ratings  ·  9,175 reviews
Hailed by Henry James as "the finest piece of imaginative writing yet put forth in the country, " Nathaniel Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" reaches to our nation's historical and moral roots for the material of great tragedy. Set in an early New England colony, the novel shows the terrible impact a single, passionate act has on the lives of three members of the community: ...more
Paperback, 256 pages
Published August 1st 1959 by Signet Classics (first published 1850)
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Dawn I suggest trying some other books from the same time period first to familiarize yourself with the language. Goodreads has lists of the Best Books of…moreI suggest trying some other books from the same time period first to familiarize yourself with the language. Goodreads has lists of the Best Books of the 19th Century and the Best Books of the 18th Century. They have some easier books and some harder books. Most of them are public domain and therefore free electronic copies are available.(less)
E.M. McCarthy If you read just one book this year this is the book to read. The metaphors are incredible and the scope of human nature's capacity for evil and…moreIf you read just one book this year this is the book to read. The metaphors are incredible and the scope of human nature's capacity for evil and goodness is illustrated beautifully in this book. It is a book you will think about as Hawthorne defines the fall of man and the hope of salvation. A deep book but one which asks and answers the question of the human condition.(less)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Sarah
Hester walked across the room. She stepped upon her left foot, her right foot, and then her left foot again. One wonders, why doth she, in this instance of walking across the room, begin her journey upon the left foot and not the right? Could it be her terrible sin, that the devil informeth the left foot just as he informeth the left hand and those bewitched, left-handed persons amongst us? Why, forsooth, doth the left foot of sin draggeth the innocent right foot along its wretched journey from ...more
Johntaylor1973
Oct 17, 2007 Johntaylor1973 rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Marquis deSade
I found my old high school review of this book. Here's a little bit of my assessment. Apologiese in advance:

If there is a hell, Hawthorne is the devil's sidekick, and the first thing you're given (after the stark realization that you're in hell, on fire, and this is going to last forever) is this book. And you have to do a 10 page paper praising the wondrous virtues of this massive waste of time. And after you've finished writing (in your own blood, mind you) your stupid paper, you are given an
...more
Heather Lei
The story, not bad. The style, unreadable.

Here is who I would recommend this book to - people who like sentences with 4 or 5 thoughts, and that are paragraph length - so that they are nearly impossible to understand - because by the time the end, of the sentence, has been reached the beginning, and whatever meaning it contained, has been forgotten and the point is lost.
Y
oh god.

hawthorne is that perpetually needy manchild of a writer, you know the one who peers over your shoulder while youre trying to read and keeps pointing out the parts of his own writing that he finds particularly good and/or moving.

"yeah, see? do you see? see how i talked about how the rose is red, and then i talk about how hesters 'a' is red, too? do you see what im trying to do here, with the symbolism?"

and its like that all the way through the book.

*edit 12 september 2008: im tutoring
...more
Kat Kennedy
Modern society and a number of people seem somewhat confused about our ancestors. On one hand, they're dumbass peasants who attached BYOW (Bring Your Own Witch) to their barbeque invitations. On the other hand, they sometimes imbue them with super mystical intelligence, class and abilities whilst bemoaning how stupid and uncouth we have become in comparison.

The Scarlet Letter allows us to judge that the reality was somewhere in between but mostly sitting on the side of pathological stupidity.


And
...more
Melissa Rudder
This was my third time reading The Scarlet Letter. The first time was during my junior year of high school. I actually enjoyed it, though literature of the nineteenth century was such a mystery to me then that I shied away from the creaky long words and felt proud of myself for succeeding in merely following the plot. When I first read it to teach it last year, I was enraptured. This year was the same. Hawthorne has such an impressive command over language. The eloquence of his language carries ...more
Eddie Watkins
THIS BOOK IS ABOUT A PREECHERS SPERM IT HAS UPTIGHT PEOPLE IN IT
Peter Derk
It's great to finally get back to the classics. It's been far too long since I read a book with careful intensity, noting throwaway lines that are likely to show up on a multiple choice or short answer test that misses the main themes of a book entirely while managing to ask lots of questions like, "In the fourth chapter, what kind of shoes was [character you don't even remember] wearing?"

I was thinking maybe it would be nice to read a book like this without worrying about that stuff, just absor
...more
Werner
May 07, 2008 Werner rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any reader who doesn't mind 19th-century diction
Actually, I've read this book twice, the first time when I was in high school. Reading it again after some thirty years, I was amazed at the amount of meaning I'd missed the first time!

Most modern readers don't realize (and certainly aren't taught in school) that Hawthorne --as his fiction, essays and journals make clear-- was a strong Christian, though he steadfastly refused to join a denomination; and here his central subject is the central subject of the Christian gospel: sin's guilt and forg
...more
Renato Magalhães Rocha
Let me start my review by stating that I'm guilty and should wear a big "P" (for "preoccupied") on my chest. I mentioned in a previous review that I was worried that if I wasn't in the right state of mind and in an adequate setting, I wouldn't be able to enjoy Dickens's Great Expectations - turned out it wasn't the case. I never expected that for The Scarlet Letter, but this might be one of the reasons I didn't enjoy the book that much and rated it 3 stars: I was in the middle of preparations to ...more
Emily May
Aug 18, 2012 Emily May rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily May by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
So I finally got to find out for myself what the majority of American high-schoolers are subjected to, and while I see the importance of a story like this and the ideas it presents in 1850, I think the subject matter is both outdated and irrelevant today. One might, of course, choose to point out that Hester Prynne's antics would still today be considered immoral in certain parts of the world, however the difference is that they probably wouldn't treat her so leniently as this seventeenth-centur ...more
Jason
Boom! Another case of youthful idiocy corrected.

Probably the biggest problem with The Scarlet Letter is that we make kids read it while they’re still too dumb to appreciate it. I was one of those dumb kids who thought it was over-written and dull. And yeah, it is over-written, but sort of in the same way that zombie scenes in The Walking Dead are over-written. It’s not a bad thing! And but by no means is this book dull, either. I was engaged from start to finish.

For those who have never heard of
...more
 Danielle The Book Huntress (Self-Proclaimed Book Ninja)
Another required read that took me by surprise at how much I enjoyed it. This is a book that delves into the consequences of guilt on a person's psyche. It is very layered in that there are times where you are not sure that what happens is exactly what is perceived. No exactly surreal but written so that there is a little bit of question about supernatural things happening. Such as did Dimmesdale really have that scarlet A branded on his chest from the power of the overwhelming guilt he carried? ...more
Thomas
Nathaniel Hawthorne is the coolest name ever.

I can see why people dislike this book, though. Hawthorne doesn't hesitate to use a lot of words. He prefers to perforate his readers' craniums with an extensive utilization of verbose language, thus intimidating and irritating those whose literary palettes do not include grandiose diction.

Reading The Scarlet Letter relieved me. I'd take rambling paragraphs and stocky sentences over quadratic equations and piecewise functions any day. Besides, his wri
...more
Paul
Another one of those classics that I probably should have read years ago but didn’t. Written in around 1850 and set in Puritan New England in the mid 17th Century, the plot is well known, but if you haven’t read it there are spoilers ahead. Hester Prynne travels to New England; her husband is to follow later. She has an affair with the local minister Arthur Dimmesdale and a child results. Adultery is a major offence and Hester Prynne experiences jail and public humiliation and is forced to wear ...more
Ben Loory
okay, so shoot me, i never read this before. well, i tried a couple times, in high school and college, but the opening part, the introduction about the custom-house, was always so incredibly boring i could never get past it. so this time, i got past it, and now all i have to say is: why the fuck is that custom-house thing there in the beginning?? (although the part where he finds the letter is nice.)
Chris
The best advice anyone can get about The Scarlet Letter is to skip the whole introductory bit about the Chapter House, unless you want a degree in English. I love this book; I teach this book, but I have my students skip that introduction. It'll make them hate the book.

Once you have skipped that part, what greets you is a wonderful book about the nature and defination of sin. Is it the outward sin, such as Hester's, that is the worse? Or is it the sin that never really comes to light? The book e
...more
K.D. Absolutely
Apr 15, 2012 K.D. Absolutely rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to K.D. by: 501 Must Read Books, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Shelves: 1001-core, 501, drama, saddest
My second book read that was written by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) who was said to be the "Shakespeare of the American Literature."

Whoa. I only read one book of Shakespeare but I have an idea of the others. I hope it is not only the use of "thee" and "thou" that lead to the comparison. For me, this book The Scarlet Letter is also theatrical and dramatic. For example, the opening scene where the adulterer and the main female protagonist of this book, Hester Prynne is on the scaffold (stage)
...more
Jason
Jul 09, 2012 Jason rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Lovers of good, wordy prose, and symbolism
Recommended to Jason by: A friend and my 11th grade English teacher
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Alex
Nathaniel Hawthorne is an easy writer to dislike. He's stuffy and moralistic and he says "thou" a lot and he just makes you want to roll your eyes. And it doesn't help that if you read him it was probably in ninth grade, the apogee of human eyerolling.

He loves to rail about how shitty the Puritans were, stemming maybe from his own guilt over having a Salem witch-burning ancestor - Hawthorne's personal brand of secret shame. But the Puritans were such tightassed joykills that there's room to do a
...more
Inge
Cami
I am a big fan of the Neverending Book Quiz.
It was through this amusing game that I came to see that I have totally missed including one of my favorite books The Scarlet Letter in my list of the books I've read.

This book of symbols, heartache, growth and the ultimate evil adversary opened my eyes (at 16, mind you) to how amazing and multilayered good literature could be.

I'm grateful for an English teacher that unfolded the depth of this book to her students. It was obvious that she loved this b
...more
Nancy Oakes
Somewhere between 4 & 5 rounded up.

I've also posted at my online reading journal; continue reading for the short version.

If you look at a random reader review of this novel, one of the first things you're apt to see is that The Scarlet Letter was assigned in someone's literature class in high school. I wasn't that lucky (I took a more classical route -- Shakespeare, the Greeks, etc.) but then again, I may not have appreciated it as much as I do now, having just read it. I can see why a lo
...more
Petra
Awesome. I never read Hawthorne before and find his writing style a bit convoluted, with many ideas in one sentence, which slowed down my reading. However, this also improved my appreciation for the language and depth of this story.
Themes: love, hate, revenge, hidden sin, open sin, forgiveness, guilt.
Which gives the Sinner the best chances of redemption: open sin, which is publically observed and punished or hidden sin, which one keeps in one’s soul and suffers alone without any chance of forg
...more
Michael
So this is where all of Cormac McCarthy's commas ended up!

Alright, so this was attempt #2 at the Scarlet Letter, and it was successful. This time, I had the brilliant idea of skipping the vast introduction and getting straight to the story. This proved the key to getting through the sucker.

I still had to roll my eyes in the first chapter when Hawthorne offered me (the reader) a rose, which is the particular moment in my first reading that I found so cringingly tacky that I cast away the book a
...more
Cate
The Scarlet Letter: THE WORST book I've had to read so far. I can't believe Ive actually finished this.
No, Nathaniel, it was not necessary to describe every single leaf on every single tree. you did NOT need talk about every single breeze that blew through the stupid village of those dumbass Puritains. Hawthorne, I will never read any more of your writings. EVER. I hate Puritains.

seriously, I think I would rather read Twilight.

I was falling asleep while reading this. awful, awful.

I might be
...more
Apatt
“The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers,—stern and wild ones,—and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.”

“But . . . the scarlet letter ceased to be a stigma which attracted the world’s scorn and bitterness, and became a type of something to be sorrowed over, and looked upon with awe, and yet with reverence, too.”
Any classic novel worth its salt should contain at least several quotab
...more
Tiffany
If Nathaniel Hawthorne were alive today, I would attend one of his readings and say, "Nathaniel Hawthorne, go fuck thyself."

According to the Centre for Learning and Teaching of Literature, The Scarlet Letter is one of the top ten most taught books in American high schools (2008). I won't even make the argument that this list needs to be updated to include more contemporary novels, as I've read plenty of classics that are equally as compelling as modern literature (anything by the Bronte sisters,
...more
Misfit
Even better when it's not required reading in school. Wow, I can't even put into words how good this book was, and so much better the second time around. The classic tale of Hester Pryne, forced to wear The Scarlet Letter as a sign to all of her adultery, but she refuses to name her lover who is then forced to bear his guilt in silence.

Enough reviewers have recounted the story better than I could. Suffice it to say I loved Hawthorne's prose, it was very dense and lyrical at the same time, and y
...more
Faith-Anne
Heartbreaking & moving. I first read this in 11th grade & it did nothing for me. I recently reread it & found myself in love. If you don't enjoy the novel when you're young, try it again in a few years. You'll be surprised how much better the book has gotten & how much you'll grow in the process of rereading it!
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Nathaniel Hawthorne was a 19th century American novelist and short story writer. He is seen as a key figure in the development of American literature for his tales of the nation's colonial history.

Shortly after graduating from Bowdoin College, Hathorne changed his name to Hawthorne. Hawthorne anonymously published his first work, a novel titled Fanshawe, in 1828. In 1837, he published Twice-Told T
...more
More about Nathaniel Hawthorne...
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“We dream in our waking moments, and walk in our sleep.” 2357 likes
“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.” 541 likes
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